Ol' Dirty Bastard

Loose cannon of the Wu-Tang Clan rap collective

In the late Nineties, as newspapers and style magazines fell over each other to write about hip hop in the hope of attracting younger readers, the Wu-Tang Clan rap collective became press darlings the world over. Of the group's nine members, Ol' Dirty Bastard gained the highest profile, as much for his unusual half-spoken, half-sung, comical delivery on the chart-topping album
Wu-Tang Forever and the 2000 UK Top Ten hit "Gravel Pit" as for his antics on and off stage.

Russell Tyrone Jones (Ol' Dirty Bastard), rapper, singer and lyricist: born New York 15 November 1968; married (13 children); died New York 13 November 2004.

In the late Nineties, as newspapers and style magazines fell over each other to write about hip hop in the hope of attracting younger readers, the Wu-Tang Clan rap collective became press darlings the world over. Of the group's nine members, Ol' Dirty Bastard gained the highest profile, as much for his unusual half-spoken, half-sung, comical delivery on the chart-topping album Wu-Tang Forever and the 2000 UK Top Ten hit "Gravel Pit" as for his antics on and off stage.

He was photographed cuddling Sharleen Spiteri, lead singer of Texas, for the cover of The Face, duetted with her on the Top Five UK hit "Say What You Want (All Day Every Day)" and at the Brit Awards in 1998, and guested with Pras Michael and Myah on the No 2 single "Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)". The irrepressible Ol' Dirty Bastard, also known as ODB, released several solo albums, but soon became more notorious for his drug-fuelled, self-destructive behaviour than his music. He spent two years in jail for drug possession but had recently signed to Roc-A-Fella Records, the label run by the entrepreneur Damon Dash and rapper Jay-Z, and returned to the recording studio.

Born Russell Tyrone Jones in Brooklyn, New York in 1968, he grew up in the Fort Green neighbourhood of the city. His mother was on welfare and the young Jones spent much of his time listening to hip hop, making up his own cartoonish rhymes and obscene freestyle raps and watching kung fu films with his cousins Robert Diggs and Gary Grice.

Towards the end of the Eighties, they began operating as All In Together Now, and took up the stage names RZA, aka Prince Rakeem (Diggs), Genius, aka GZA (Grice), with Jones picking Ol' Dirty Bastard, aka ODB, since he didn't know his father.

Solo singles appeared under the names Genius and Prince Rakeem in 1991, but a spell in prison delayed RZA's emergence as a musical force. By the time he came out of jail, RZA had read the Koran and various books on I Ching and other Eastern philosophies, and had developed a vision for a rap troupe of Ninja-like warriors reminiscent of his favourite kung fu films.

They became a nine-piece under the name the Wu-Tang Clan, with further members Raekwon (Corey Woods), Method Man (Clifford Smith), Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coles), Inspectah Deck (Jason Hunter), U-God (Lamont Hawkins) and Masta Killa (Elgin Turner), and in 1992 issued a self-financed limited-edition single called "Protect Ya Neck". Following airplay on college and hip hop stations, the 500 copies of the atmospheric track became collectors' items and the chase was on to sign the most innovative group to emerge from the East Coast in years.

They chose the Loud label, which was distributed by RCA/BMG and uniquely allowed the nine members the rights to negotiate further solo contracts away from the collective. They recorded their début album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993, and before its release that November, ODB won over a crowd of BMG executives at a convention with an impromptu rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

The label set about promoting the Wu-Tang Clan not only in the United States but internationally. Within the next five years, that eerie first album and subsequent solo efforts by Method Man, Raekwon, RZA, Ghostface Killa, a 10th member, Coppadonna (Darryl Hill), and Ol' Dirty Bastard sold a combined 13 million copies - ODB's 1995 album Return to the 36 Chambers: the dirty version went gold in the US. The Wu-Tang Clan were established as a major force not only in music but also in fashion. Cultural observers compared their marketing acumen - which would eventually include a video game called Shaolin Style, a Wu-Tang Beer and Wu Nails, a chain of nail salons - to that of the team behind the Spice Girls.

Wu-Tang Forever, the group's second album, contained a CD-Rom, as well as a scatological rap by ODB entitled "Dog Shit", and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in June 1997. ODB was in demand as a guest rapper, lending his cachet and giving street credibility to a remix of Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" in 1995 but he also seemed to be attracting trouble everywhere he went.

In 1993, he was convicted of second-degree assault in New York and, the following year, he was shot in the stomach after an argument in a Brooklyn street. In November 1997, ODB was arrested because he had paid no child support in over a year to his wife Icelene for their three children (he fathered a further 10 children with other partners).

In early 1998, he launched a clothing line, My Dirty Wear, and rescued a little girl trapped under a car after an accident, but his wild side took over that February when he rushed the stage at the Grammy Awards while the singer Shawn Colvin was making an acceptance speech. Clearly under the influence, ODB ranted and raved about the fact that Puff Daddy had beaten the Wu-Tang Clan to the best rap album statuette before he was eventually hustled off-stage. His outburst was news around the world. Throughout his career, ODB had given incoherent interviews and at various times claimed he was changing his stage name to Osirus, Joe Bannanas, Dirt McGirt, Dirt Dog, Unique Ason and even Big Baby Jesus. "I created all these worlds," he boasted.

In April 1998, he pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife and had a protection order issued against him. In May, he missed two court appearances but finally paid out $35,000 in child support. In June, he was again shot, this time in the arm, during an attempted robbery in Brooklyn. ODB checked himself out of hospital and resurfaced a week later after being arrested for walking out of a shop wearing a new pair of shoes he hadn't paid for.

Despite his increasingly bizarre behaviour, he managed to tour and record with his protégés D.R.U.G. (Dirty Rotten Underground Grimies) but had to post bail after threatening security guards at a Des'ree concert in Los Angeles in September 1998. The following month, he was thrown out of a hotel in Berlin for exposing himself on the balcony of his suite and, in November, he threatened a former girlfriend in California and was again arrested.

ODB was arrested on a regular basis in 1999. On two separate occasions, he was pulled over for driving without licence plates in New York and on both occasions police officers found vials of crack cocaine in his vehicle. Eventually, he checked himself into a rehab centre, but legal bills from various outstanding cases and subsequent non-appearances kept mounting up.

Released in September 1999, the album Nigga Please made the US Top Ten but ODB could not find a way out of the vicious circle of misdemeanours and court appearances. In January 2000, during a court hearing in New York, he managed to aggravate the presiding judge and a female district attorney, and also fell asleep. After violating the terms of his probation by getting drunk, he was sentenced to six months in rehab.

In October 2000, he absconded from the rehab centre and spent a month as a fugitive from the law before turning up on stage and performing three songs at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York at a party to promote the release of The W, the new Wu-Tang Clan album, to which he had contributed a track called "Conditioner". Somehow, ODB avoided arrest at the event but the law eventually caught up with him when he attracted a huge crowd while signing autographs in a parking lot in Philadelphia. In April 2001, he was found guilty of possessing cocaine and received the minimum sentence of two to four years.

To capitalise on his notoriety, Elektra hastily compiled Dirty Story: the best of Ol' Dirty Bastard while, the following year, the D-3 label issued The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones, a collection of tracks he had recorded while on the run.

ODB had a hard time in prison and was put on suicide watch but came out last year determined to make a fresh start. He reunited with the Wu-Tang Clan for concert appearances and the live album Disciples of the 36 Chambers, and also contributed "Thirsty" with Black Keith to the soundtrack of the film Blade: Trinity, starring Wesley Snipes and due for release next month.

"If I die, spread the word the CIA killed me!" ODB quipped during a 1997 interview with Tim Westwood on Radio One. He collapsed at his recording studio in New York on Saturday, two days shy of his 36th birthday.

Pierre Perrone



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